UCSF Cancer Expert Helps Patients And Caregivers Achieve A Better Understanding Of A Cancer Diagnosis In Two New Books

November 05, 1998

We all have an untapped potential for emotional and spiritual strength that enables us to endure whatever life throws our way, even if it is a life-threatening illness like cancer, according to a cancer expert at the University of California San Francisco.

In UCSF oncologist, Ernest Rosenbaum's, M.D., new book, "Inner Fire: Your Will to Live" (Plexus Publishing, $14.95), nineteen people including those who have faced cancer or another serious illness, physicians, caregivers, and family and friends of patients, describe some of the critical ingredients of a person's will to live. For example, readers find out what inspired Laura Evans and a group of breast cancer survivors to climb the 23,000 foot Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.

"This book provides people with the perspective of what it is like to go through an illness," said Rosenbaum. "By understanding how others have coped with illness, this guide helps those facing a life-threading disease to better cope themselves and develop a stronger will to live."

Rosenbaum, a long-time medical oncologist who has written 16 other books on cancer therapy, said that doctors have always been fascinated by the power of a patient's will to live and what makes them overcome their sickness to fight for their life.

In trying to find the answers to these questions Rosenbaum and his wife, Isadora Rosenbaum, who is the co-author of the book and works in an oncology practice providing psychosocial support to patients and their families, began asking people about what enabled them to live fully when faced with disease. They found that there is a commonality of factors among those who have a strong will to live. These include hope, faith, attitude, determination, the love of life, courage, luck and chance, the ability to cope, a support system, having a purpose (goals), and the appropriate medical care. In addition, those who have a remarkable will to live appear to have strong bonds of friendship and love. Rosenbaum said that the integration of these common factors is the keystone for the will to live.

But it was not only through others' experiences with illness that he came to understand the human power of the will to live. When Rosenbaum suffered respiratory failure and an acute heart attack in 1995, he learned about his own will and was also forced to reaffirm his values and beliefs.

He said that, like the people whose stories are depicted in the book, his will to live comes from hope and is also rooted in stark reality. The diagnosis of a life-threatening illness can act as a "wake-up call" and provides a person with an opportunity to acknowledge his or her mortality and to examine priorities. For instance, when a person receives a dismal prognosis, many ask themselves such questions as: What is important to me? How do I want to spend the rest of my life? What behaviors or attitudes do I wish to change?

Rosenbaum said that anyone who goes through this process inevitably experiences positive change and, in doing so, begins to nurture their will to live. In the Rosenbaums' second new book, "Cancer Supportive Care: A Comprehensive Guide for Patients and Their Families" (Somerville House Publishing, $24.95), they provide cancer patients and their caregivers with a comprehensive guide that helps them make their way through the myriad of confusing paths toward physical and emotional recovery and stability.

The Rosenbaums share their many years of experience working as caregivers of cancer patients and translate them into a series of recommendations patients and their families can rely on to promote full recovery or a better quality of life. "There are many treatments for cancer but without supportive care, a person has less of a chance of surviving the disease," Rosenbaum said. "Medical therapy is often very difficult to tolerate, but supportive care addresses the whole person and improves a patient's quality of life while they are facing a life-threatening illness."

The guide includes information on a wide breadth of topics ranging from up-to-date medical information on cancer and its treatments to discussions regarding the emotional impact of the disease on a person. The authors also discuss a person's will to live, coping strategies, spirituality, exercise, sexuality, nutrition, managed care, patient-physician relationships, grief and recovery.

In addition, this is one of the first books of its kind to provide new information on alternative and complementary therapies; the role of creative expression, visualization and spirituality for those living with cancer; stress and emotional well-being; and bone marrow transplants.

Rosenbaum said that the guide is dedicated to living, rather than dying, and to helping patients concentrate on enhancing and cherishing the quality of their lives despite their brush with cancer.

Both of the Rosenbaums' books are available at the UCSF and UCSF/Mount Zion Medical Center bookstores and libraries and at the UCSF Cancer Resource Center at Mount Zion. "The Inner Fire" is also available through Plexus Publishing; to order call 1-888-626-9662 and for more information, call 512-442-2003, or check out the book's website at www.innerfire.com. "Cancer Supportive Care" is available through Somerville House Publishing at 416-486-6434.

University of California - San Francisco

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